• gaffe •
gæf • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A clumsy remark, embarrassing blunder, faux pas, solecism.
Notes: Don't forget the final E on this word, because, without it, (gaff) it means "a stick with a hook on the end". This word seems to be a lexical orphan, with no derivational relatives.
In Play: VP Joe Biden, known for his verbal gaffes, once said "If we do everything right, there's still a 30% chance we are going to get it wrong." However, in Washington a gaffe is usually when someone slips up and tells the truth. Gaffes may be visual, as the picture below demonstrates.
Word History: English in the early 20th century simply helped itself to the French word gaffe "clumsy remark", originally "a pole with a hook on the end". French took the word from Old Provenšal gafar "to seize", which borrowed it from a Germanic source. We guess a Germanic source for that would explain the changes in the PIE word kap- "to grasp". This leaves only the semantic question. The semantic shift probably resulted from a confusion with an ancestor of the Old English word gaf "buffoonery, tomfoolery". (Our old friend and frequent contributor Jackie Strauss gave us the go-ahead on today's funny if mysterious Good Word.)
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